sábado, octubre 21, 2006

Romantic operas dominate

As a genre , opera spans a bit over four centuries but apart from Mozart most of the standards come from one rich period, the Romantic, lasting from about 1810 to 1910. Productions at our city again confirm this trend. Adelaida Negri is a distinguished veteran soprano who had a big international career and in the final years of her activity has settled in her country founding the Casa de la Opera de Buenos Aires. Thanks to her we have heard admirable bel canto works which have been neglected by the Colón; thus we had the three Donizetti British queens, a rarity such as Bellini’s “La Straniera” and Rossini’s final opera, “Guglielmo Tell”. She offers two titles a year, and recently she has had the positive input of Fundamús, led by producer Eduardo Casullo. Considering the costs and difficulties of producing opera, one can only say that the lady has shown courage, interesting programming and continuity in years of crisis. The venue is currently the Avenida. I don’t agree with her first choice of this year; Bellini’s “Norma” has been heard both at the Avenida and at the Colón in recent years, and it wasn’t a good idea to compete with one’s memory of Negri’s performances of yore . The soprano knows the style and is always a commanding presence dramatically, but alas, her vocal means nowadays aren’t enough to cope with the myriad difficulties of one of the most important roles of the repertoire. Also, I found tenor Juan Tarpinian, playing the Roman consul Pollione, exceedingly rigid in tone and demeanor. Brazilian mezzosoprano Glacimere Oliveira (debut) has some good qualities but not enough for the pure lines of Adalgisa. And bass Claudio Rotella was a middling Oroveso. There were decent jobs from the Orchestra and Chorus (Juan Casasbellas) formed ad-hoc, with good leadership from Giorgio Paganini . Casullo’s production was abetted by well-conceived costumes by Mariela Daga, but the uncredited stage designs were rather strange, for my idea of Gallic woods in Druidic times isn’t green streamers falling from the above. Groupings were traditional and unobtrusive. On the other hand, I completely agree with her other choice, Amilcare Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda” (1876). This lurid melodrama has a libretto by Tobia Gorrio (anagram of Arrigo Boito) , a free adaptation of Victor Hugo’s “Angelo, tyrant of Padua”. Italian melodrama certainly tends to exaggeration, but this is a case of aesthetic overkill, and unless the singers are perceptive actors it can easily become a parody . The clumsy contradictions that encumber this Venetian story of love, vendetta and politics would certainly sink it were it not for a solid hour of really attractive music: splendid arias and duets that are true meat for big singers. Perusing the CD catalog I find six complete recordings and innumerable ones of the most famous arias such as “Suicidio” and “Cielo e mar”. People of long memories (I’m one of them) will surely remember the stupendous Colón revival of 1966 with Suliotis, Tucker, MacNeil and Bartoletti. Four decades later is a long time indeed, and I went to the performance with much expectation . Without odious comparisons, the result was certainly commendable. You need star voices for this larger-than-life canvas to have its full effect; we didn’t have them, but several gave good accounts of themselves. Leonardo López Linares was an appropriately villainous Barnaba, the spy of the Inquisition, singing with firmness and character. José González Cuevas tackled valiantly his Enzo Grimaldo, with some dicey moments and lack of expansion at climaxes, but mostly holding his own. Glacimere Oliveira is beautiful and that helps for Laura; her singing is enthusiastic though short on line. La Cieca (the Blind Woman) may be as a role tiresomely pietistic but it got the right quality of voice from Alicia Alduncin. Marcelo Otegui was firm in his singing of the lowering Alvise, Inquisitor. In short parts Gastón García showed an impressive bass voice. So we come to La Gioconda, that Callas favorite, a role of extreme intensity. Adelaida Negri still has a powerful presence and vocally also has her moments, but along that you have to accept vibrato-ridden highs and very threadbare lows. The opera has a famous ballet episode, the “Dance of the Hours”. I’ve known it since I was a small kid as a brilliant parody in Disney’s “Fantasia”, so it’s hard for me to forget crocodiles, hippos and ostriches dancing in points. The Ballet Clásico de Buenos Aires did a traditional choreography by its Director, Guido de Benedetti, with two principals from the Colón, Karina Olmedo and the Argentino, Bautista Parada, both very good; but some ladies of the corps de ballet should watch their weight. The orchestra could be bettered, some strings weren’t up to par, but the conducting of Paganini was well conceived, with sane tempi and some tension. The Chorus sang and acted with involvement under Casasbellas. The production by Casullo had some good features along with mistakes. The scenes with chorus were animated and folklike and the relationships of the principal characters were adequately exposed. He used attractive projections but not always accurately: certainly the Grand Canal residences I saw in the First Act can’t be perceived from the Ducal Palace. And there were strange wrong details. Fine costumes from Mariela Daga and good masks from Sergio Schroeder. Complementary stage designs by Atilio de Laforé were adequate. 24/10/06 para el Buenos Aires Herald

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